Review: Software extras ease do-it-yourself taxes

NEW YORK (AP) - It’s never been easier to prepare your own tax return.

The software available for the 2012 tax season has been both expanded and made easier to use. This will make the annual chore quicker and reduce the chance of missing big deductions and important tax credits.

Close to 40 million taxpayers prepared their own returns online last year. That’s up 14 percent from 2010 and nearly 24 percent from 2009, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Still, more than 33 million returns were submitted on paper forms in 2011, meaning there’s still a large target market for software providers. Whether you’re an old hand or trying e-filing for the first time, you’ll find an array of software choices:

TurboTax

_ Basic level starts at $19.95.

_ Online and desktop versions available.

_ Apps available for iPad, iPhone and Android phone.

_ Live help available via phone and online chat.

This market-leading program is user-friendly and easy to navigate. That’s a big plus for anyone who may be a little uncomfortable handling financial paperwork. It uses multiple graphics to depict various categories of deductions, such as a small house for mortgage, property taxes and related deductions and a graduation cap for education-related items.

It also asks simple questions that lead you to various points on the return and to additional forms to possibly include, without making it obvious what’s happening.

Do-it-yourselfers who used Intuit Inc.’s TurboTax in past years should be able to call up their information from prior years when they log in. TurboTax also can grab prior-year return information from your computer if you used another company’s software. The software compares results between years, which is another way to ensure you don’t miss any deductions or credits you may qualify for.

TurboTax has added free live advice from tax professionals, through which you can ask questions via online chat or by telephone. It also still has its popular “community” questions and answers link.

Along with the free version, TurboTax has pricing tiers depending on an individual’s needs. The basic level is $19.95 for a federal return. Prices rise to the Home and Business version for $74.95. Besides its online offerings, TurboTax software may also be purchased off the shelf at major office supply chains and other stores, starting at $29.99.

The company also is pushing its prepaid card as a way to receive your refund via direct deposit. If you choose to use it, you’ll be entered into a contest to double your refund. The card comes with a $5.95 monthly fee unless you keep a balance of at least $50. It offers just one free ATM withdrawal per month and carries several other potential fees.

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